Tom Carson

Tom Carson won two National Magazine Awards during his stint as Esquire's "Screen" columnist and has been nominated twice more as GQ's movie reviewer. Formerly a staff writer at LA Weekly and The Village Voice, he is the author of Gilligan's Wake (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2003) and Daisy Buchanan's Daughter.

Recent Articles

Two Roads Diverged

The fates of the stars of 1964's The World of Henry Orient say much about the decade in which they came of age.

You already know that this a good year for big-league 50th anniversaries, from Beatlemania's advent to the first Civil Rights Act with any balls to speak of. So before April comes, let me draw your attention to a distinctly minor milestone: the premiere of The World of Henry Orient on March 19, 1964. Among my contemporaries who know the movie at all, I've never met one who doesn't cherish it. But considering that the contemporaries I'm on good terms with include a fair number of professional film critics, it's interesting how rarely Henry Orient gets its due as one of our formative moviegoing experiences. This one we keep for ourselves. Plot, courtesy of the novel by veteran screenwriter Nunnally Johnson's daughter Nora: two Manhattan 'tweeners cultivate an obsession with a pretentious and silly musician named Henry Orient (Peter Sellers, then at the peak of his vogue). The rich one—Tippy Walker as Val—is looking for an escape from being caught between her kindly but...

An Iraq War Satire with a French Twist

The French Minister
The French aren't famous for mocking their own vanities, which is why the new movie The French Minister— retitled from Quai D'Orsay, the metonymic equivalent of "Foggy Bottom"—would probably have Charles de Gaulle rolling in his formidable grave. Thierry Lhermitte plays a foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding Foreign Minister named Alexandre Taillard de Vorms—a blatant parody of Jacques Chirac's foppish, dizzyingly self-regarding top diplomat, Dominique de Villepin, best known on this side of the Atlantic for his 2003 U.N. speech denouncing George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Call him the father of "Freedom Fries," since that absurd renaming on Capitol Hill menus was pretty much the major consequence of his stand. Antonin Baudry, author of the graphic novel The French Minister is based on, was Villepin's speechwriter at the time, so we're presumably getting a fair amount of inside dish. Yet the movie's tone isn't acrid or score-settling; it's merry and bemused. The real...

When Hollywood Went to War

In Five Came Back, Mark Harris takes a look at the directors who turned propaganda into high art.

Even though George W. Bush relished comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler, the mind boggles at imagining Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino all donning uniform for the duration to make films championing the Iraq war's righteousness. That their very approximate 1940s equivalents did just that—generally for a fraction of their peacetime pay—is a trenchant reminder that World War II was different. How Frank Capra, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Huston's lives and careers were altered as a result is the subject of Mark Harris's first-rate Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (Penguin, $29.95). Harris's first book, 2008's Pictures at A Revolution, used the Oscar nominees for Best Picture of 1967 to capture a Hollywood on the uneasy verge of changing times, with Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate representing the new generation's brooms and Stanley Kramer's earnest Guess Who's Coming To...

The Oscars? Let's Grouch

Picture a caravan of Edsels charging at you with tuxedoed dodos behind every wheel. You've now got some idea of how most movie fans under, oh, 40 or so apparently feel about the Oscars, and who can blame them? Not me. Hitting rock bottom—well, let's hope so—with the recruitment of jackass-of-all-trades Seth McFarlane as last year's host, the Academy's frantic attempts to rejuvenate the proceedings are based on a faulty premise. Really, the problem isn't—or isn't only, anyway—that the show and/or the nominees aren't hip enough to lure an audience not dependent on Depends and revitalized by Viagra. So far as I can tell, the kiddies are increasingly unbedazzled by the ceremony's purpose, a rather more fatal drawback. The whole, lumbering mystique of the Academy Awards derives from two outdated notions. One was that Hollywood's output had pride of place among America's pop-culture amusements, and the far from unrelated other was that Academy voters' verdict on the...

Ashes to Ashes—The 3D Edition

When you buy a ticket to a movie called Pompeii, expecting art or even brains would be fatuous; what you want is a good time. Sue me for confessing I had one. 

AP Images/FEREX Is Pompeii worth two hours of any sentient adult's time? It's definitely a waste of your hard-earned leisure cash, but that's not quite the same question. I don't know what sort of value you put on your time when you're in a mood to savor dumbness so unalloyed it's like a throwback to the dawn of cheesy movies. I'm not sure I can improve on the studio's own deadpan plot summary: "Set in 79 A.D., Pompeii tells the epic story of Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him." Translation: Spartacus meets Titanic. Do I even need to mention that this thing is in 3-D? Starting with the casting of...